Saturday, 19 February 2011

Sugar's sour taste

Before dawn on Thursday, five sleeping people were shot dead by police in Bahrain. In the previous days, two people protesting against the kingdom's government had been killed by police. Following their deaths groups of people organised to come out to the Pearl roundabout (pictured) in Manama, Bahrain's capital. The area had been designated their equivalent of Tahrir Square in Cairo; many people in Bahrain have been inspired by the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt.

That lunchtime, Britain's Lord Sugar Tweeted that he 'got stick from ppl when I said hope Egypt crisis does not repeat in other countries. My reason was wrong people do it for wrong reasons.' On a morning when five sleeping people had been shot dead by police in Bahrain this seemed inappropriate but I first asked Lord Sugar for clarification as to whom he meant by the 'wrong people'. I was surprised to receive a response, especially when it was cloaked in suspicion and abuse; I tried to explain my motives but he refused to reengage and has continued to do so.

There are questions here about Twitter, which is supposed to encourage democratic debate, fine when people agree with you but all too easy to ignore otherwise. I think it's pretty disgusting for a lord to abuse someone entirely unprovoked on a forum where he has such a huge following. (His problem seemed to be that I was a member of the press but, if that was the case, his self-confessed ignorance was already expressed for all to see.)

There's the suspicion he was out of his depth: he moved the Twitter debate onto Spurs' midweek slaughter of AC Milan, although he got his facts wrong, as he more readily admitted. Bahrain is a hugely complicated issue: there are generations of resentment against the minority Sunni rulers coupled with the corruption that is endemic in the Arab world, alongside many other issues I'm sure I wouldn't even pretend to understand, but this is nothing to the Western view of which Lord Sugar is emblematic.

An overwhelming Shia population may be unrepresented but this is unimportant when people elsewhere, who know even less than I pretend to but wield incredible power, are more worried about British sales to the kingdom we established (including sales of armaments that may have been used in killing innocent civilians this week), the position of America's Fifth Fleet and, of course, the Iranian bogeyman.

It's devastating to think that a high-profile member of the opposition should have so little consideration, knowledge and inclination to investigate these arguments that he happily admits: 'Not quite sure what is all about.' It's a shame he can't engage in a discussion that may help him learn something, unless he inappropriately sees this as entertainment (he dismissed one dissenter as 'cretin scum', the vilest street abuse; he blocks most, in a Twitter rewrite of his 'You're fired' catchphrase).

We're left with the common cavil: the West encourages democracy around the world but as soon as it becomes clear what the results may be, it's a different matter. Lord (in all his forms) help us if Sugar ever receives any form of overseas brief.

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